Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Tubular Bells Part 1"

Occasionally, in my moments of weakness and nostalgia, I revisit my teenage ambitions and dredge up what little musical talent I have. A tinkle of piano, a strum or two on the guitar, even - hey! rock and roll! - a toot on the flute. I play a pretty convincing air-piano and I've been known to knock out a mean drum solo on my desk.
But despite teenage dreams of stardom, chicks and gold discs, I ran up against my lack of talent, of ambition in that particular direction, and the of confidence to put it all on show. But I also blame people like Mike Oldfield.
I mean, listen to this record! No content with having talent for one particular instrument, Mike had to go and be a whiz at something like 30 different ones. And what's worse, he had to write an intriguing, beguiling mix of folk and rock, in a classical format; and in doing so, created two of the more memorable tunes of the last 30 years. You could quite reasonably give Mike credit for writing the first ambient album.
Another thought: this is the record that launched (Sir) Richard Branson's career.
Seriously, though, this is amazing stuff. It ebbs, it flows, it grows and develops, pulls you in different directions and makes you actually think about what you're hearing. From the menacing opening -- maybe it's menacing only because it was picked up and used as the theme for "The Exorcist" -- through the pastoral middle section, all mandolins and flowing keyboards, and onto the majestic, titanic finale, listening to this is like being put through a wringer. Again I say that just because a piece of music has no lyrics, doesn't mean that it can't be involving.
Having said that, the punk generation had no time for this kind of music. Intellectual, they called it, which I think was some sort of code for "boring". But listen to the last eight minutes of this and there's no way on earth you can call it boring. A simple theme, played first on one guitar; then, one by one, more instruments are piled on top, each one introduced by the late, great Vivian Stanshall, until the whole juddering, top-heavy construction casts loose and floats away into the ether.
It's not often that you have to consciously separate a piece of music from the effort involved in making it: music should be easy, we think. But when the music is as inspiring as this, then the effort, however much it was, was clearly worthwhile.

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